The bombshell announcement by Jim Folsom, Jr. that he will opt to run for reelection as Lt. Governor, rather than make the plunge into the Governor’s race, reveals a pivotal piece of the 2010 election puzzle. It clears the field and reshapes the deck. It also opens the floodgate. You will now see the field begin to take shape over the next two months.

Folsom was the bell cow. The race for Governor will now crystallize and by the time the bell rings in mid June the horses will be lined up and out of the chute. The major players will have to show their hands by that time, as fundraising begins in June.

So far the much anticipated Governor’s race has seen more announcements that they will not run than those that said they plan to make the race. Since January five major players have bailed out of contention. House Speaker Seth Hammett, Mobile Congressman Jo Bonner and Attorney General Troy King took their names out of the hat early. In the past month the two most formidable figures on both sides have chosen not to run. Jack Hawkins and Jim Folsom, Jr. were probably the favorites to capture their party’s nomination and face off in the 2010 general election.

Many folks were surprised by the Folsom decision. However, I predicted as much three months ago in my mid January column. I told you then that Folsom “is very laid back and is somewhat ambivalent about being Governor again. He tells close friends that he enjoys the leisurely, less stressful life of being Lt. Governor much more than being in the spotlight as Governor. My guess is that if Davis makes the Governor’s race, Folsom runs for Lt. Governor again.”

Folsom’s odds of beating a Republican for Governor were probably better than garnering the Democratic mantle in a race against Artur Davis. Folsom’s prospects were darkened by Davis’ entry. It would have been a daunting task. Folsom may have prevailed but he would have been badly bruised when he arrived at the general election dance.

The Democratic primary in Alabama has 50% white voters and 50% black voters. Assuming Davis received the majority of black votes, let’s say 80%, and Folsom lost 20% of the white electorate to Davis, Folsom would have been in trouble. However, my guess is that Folsom could have wrestled 20% of the black vote from Davis and Davis probably could wrest 20% of the white Democratic vote from Folsom. This would have left them in a virtual tie with a flip of the coin deciding the outcome.

Davis is going to have unlimited finances in his quest to become the first African American Governor of Alabama. His race will draw national attention and money. Therefore, Folsom would have had to spend every dime he could raise and, even if he prevailed over Davis, he would have arrived at the dance not only beaten up but broke as well.

Nobody has ever accused Folsom of being politically stupid. He can read the political tea leaves. Whoever were to have emerged from the Democratic Battle Royale between Folsom and Davis would have been hard pressed to beat the Republican nominee.

Folsom’s decision may be more thought out and calculated than meets the eye. It may be based more on not just lacking the so-called fire in the belly to run. Folsom may be sly like a fox. Suppose Davis wins the Democratic primary and loses to a Republican in 2010. That Republican inherits a sinking ship of state. Our state government’s finances will be a disaster in January 2011. The stimulus bailout has only swept the problems under the rug for two years. Whoever becomes governor in 2011 will be boarding the Titanic ready to go under. They are destined to fail and be a one-term governor. Folsom will be waiting in the wings in 2014.

However, on the other hand, Folsom may have relinquished his last chance to be governor again. The GOP candidate has an inherent advantage in the Governor’s race. A Republican has won five of the last six gubernatorial contests.

The GOP field will now begin to formulate. Most Republican aspirants will perceive that Davis will be much easier to beat than Folsom. We will continue this discussion next week and analyze how Folsom’s decision affects all the other races on the ballot. It will probably have a domino effect.